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January 17, 2022

VBites owner Heather Mills says UK enjoying “plant-based boom”

VBites sold a 25% stake to Pfeifer & Langen in December, elevating the company to one with farm-to-fork capabilities.

Heather Mills, the owner of UK vegan firm VBites, says the country is in the midst of a “plant-based boom” as the company seeks to accelerate sales with new investment on board.

VBites sold a 25% stake to Pfeifer & Langen in December, elevating the company to one with farm-to-fork capabilities, with Mills, who describes herself as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and investor, retaining the remaining share of the business.

She told Just Food that with the undisclosed investment in hand, the company aims to grow sales by 700% in four years, declining to provide details on current revenues.

Pfeifer & Langen, based in Cologne, will supply VBites with pea and other plant-based proteins, saving the business from having to take on another production facility to add to its three plants in the UK, along with one in Germany and another in Austria, Mills said.

Predominately a sugar and ingredients producer, Pfeifer & Langen also owns the Intersnack Group, which houses the KP and Tyrrell’s snack brands, among others. It also has a majority interest in Amidori, a plant-based food manufacturer in Germany and has invested in local pea-protein firm Endori.

“They’ve got 20,000 farms, so we’re growing peas and all sorts of other items. You can develop the stuff but you need other manufacturers to actually make it into the isolates for you. Otherwise, it’s another [GBP] 20 million {US27.3m] factory and another one for everything that you do. We need to make sure that the isolate companies grow at the rate we’re growing,” Mills, who founded VBites 13 years ago and has been in the food industry for 30 years, explained.

VBites was freed up from an exclusive contract with Holland & Barrett when the high street health retailer was bought in 2017 by L1 Retail, a fund controlled by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, from US private-equity firm Carlyle.

It caters to retail and B2B customers and is also growing the e-commerce side of the business. VBites’ focus this year is on plant-based fish and cheese alternatives, although the company also produces vegan sausage, hamburgers, chicken and meatballs.

“We’ve only got a couple of competitors. We are one of the only companies that does everything – in fact, we are the only company,” Mills said, adding the business has “massive scale” to meet the demand.

“It’s definitely not slowing down. We needed some real experts and we needed to have the right partners [and] strategic food investment,” she said of Pfeifer & Langen. “We’ve managed to do that now and it’s just guns blazing and busier than ever.”

Mills suggested the UK plant-based market is “saturated”, particularly in burgers, sausage and chicken, as new players enter the category. “Big corporates” are especially getting in on the act as they “finally want a piece of the vegan pie,” she said.

VBites exports to 24 countries, including Scandinavia, which Mills describes as a “big market” for plant-based foods. The business also sells into the Middle East, the US and Australia and plans to enter new destinations in Europe this year in Italy, Spain and Israel.

Mills also owns a vegan make-up company and V-Omega 3, an algal oil producer, but VBites is so busy it is “insane”, she claimed.

We are in a “vegan plant-based boom at the moment”, Mills said. “It’s been 28 years coming but finally, we’re there.”

She added: “All the predictions and all the plans and everything that we had in place – and we know the best plans don’t always go at the time that you want them to – but having them in place they eventually do happen and that’s what’s happening now. So loads of big corporates coming to us asking us to do private label for them, as well as grow our own brand now we’re out of the exclusivity of Holland & Barrett.”

 

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